University of Calgary

Imported malaria cases in Calgary increasing, study finds

UToday HomeApril 16, 2013

Dr. Dylan Pillai cultures malaria parasites in his lab. Photo by Todd O’KeefeDr. Dylan Pillai cultures malaria parasites in his lab. Photo by Todd O’KeefeA new study from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine has shown that imported malaria cases in Calgary are on the rise, suggesting that few Calgarian travellers seek medical advice or take preventive medications against malaria when travelling to countries where the disease is endemic. The study is available online today in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study found there were 295 laboratory-confirmed imported malaria cases in Calgary between the year 2000 and 2011, and only 23.8 per cent of those infected with malaria sought medical advice prior to travel. Additionally, it was found that only 60 per cent of those who sought medical advice took preventive treatment.

In the year 2000, there were about 10 cases of malaria in the city compared to 2011 when there were over 50 cases detected.

“Calgarians can get malaria if travelling to affected regions. The good news is malaria can be prevented if the right precautions are taken,” says Dr. Dylan Pillai, senior author of the study and member of the University of Calgary’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. “There are very effective drugs available to both prevent and treat the illness, provided it is accessed within a timely fashion.”

The study found that about 44 per cent of cases were a result of individuals going to visit family and/or friends residing in affected regions. Approximately 25 per cent of cases were reported in those newly immigrated to Calgary and 22 per cent from leisure travel. The remainder of cases were found in those who traveled for business, or from individuals who visited Calgary from affected regions.

Malaria is a tropical infection caused by the bite of an infected mosquito. It is not contagious and only those visiting affected regions are at risk.

Symptoms can be flu-like in nature, and can include headache, fever and vomiting; severe cases can be fatal. While no deaths were reported in Calgary during the timeframe of this study, there are approximately 655,000 deaths worldwide each year from the illness.

“Travellers going to affected regions, regardless of purpose for travel, should seek medical advice from their family doctor or one of the many travel clinics in Calgary,” says Pillai.

According to the study, countries where most of Calgary’s imported malaria cases have come from are Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, India, Ghana, and Cameroon.

About 500 Canadians are infected with malaria every year as a direct result of travelling overseas. Most of Canada’s malaria cases are densely concentrated in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

 

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